Nicki Mayo is the embodiment of Maya Angelou’s walking like she’s got oil wells in her living room. There’s an ethereal smile on her full lips that radiates her features, confidence in her stride and command of all who enter her dynamic presence.
“She is quite the focused wonderful, black journalist that I had no doubt that she would be and still growing and that is what is such a blessing. She was always focused, hard driving. Very determined. Very ambitious hungry which is some wonderful qualities as a journalist,” Angela Y. Robinson, Director of Operations at the National Association of Black Journalists, said.
“And she was very she was always confident, not cocky— confident; that if you if you opened the door, she could walk through it and find a way through and make something sometimes out of nothing.”
The Delta is hard to miss. Being 5’1 is just a technicality. Nicki Mayo is the daughter of one of her sheroes, Ida B. Wells-Barnett as she remains on the forefront of issues when it would be easier to toe the line.
“She is very organized, very determined. She’s also really kind. But does not suffer fools gladly. She’s just one of those people that you would want in your corner. She emanates peace and joy all the time even when people press her,” Benét J. Wilson, Owner/Editor-in-Chief of Aviation Queen LLC, and president of the Baltimore Association of Black Journalists, said. “But never ever take her kindness for weakness.”
Mayo is aware of the impression she leaves, as a person and journalistic footprint. It’s flattering but she admitted to struggling more than she’s been public with.
“The perception of perfection is a joke and we can’t be 100 percent perfect all the time. I always refer to when we have an event, or I have something that I have to do in the public eye and have to be on. Ok, I’m going to be on. I’m going to give you all the energy I have,” she said.
“I’m going to be very particular like Beyoncé style, particularly everything I do. Very intentional. But you can’t be perfect all the time.”
The Baltimore native and multimedia journalist is the brainchild of Nicki May News, LLC, and fully immersed in cultural events. She’s broken through and ascended in an industry that isn’t always favorable to minorities, much less Black women. If life had gone according to her plans as a little girl, Mayo would now bench at the Supreme Court.
“I wanted to be a lawyer. I grew up watching The Cosby Show and wanted to be a lawyer like Claire Huxtable and I figured okay well she’s a lawyer, but I want to be like the best lawyer ever. So, I used to have a goal of being the first Black woman to become the Supreme Justice,” she recounted.
“And when I realized how much law school you had to go through and how long you had to work in the profession to get there, as much as I like Thurgood Marshall, I was like, ‘this is not my life; not my ministry’. But that kind of got me into the whole being vocal, being able to craft arguments and being persuasive.”
Nicki Mayo graduated from Syracuse University, earning degrees in Speech Communications and African American Studies. She also minored in Spanish Language Linguistics. It was a springboard to such positions at BET, TV One’s “Fatal Attraction” and Associated Press. Her raw talent that has enabled to segue from television, newsroom and digital is rooted in the desire for advocacy.
“I grew up idolizing the Ida B. Wells of the world,” Nicki Mayo began of the investigative journalist and activist.
“And the people who were always telling our story unadulterated. But then I saw the difference between the story that they were telling of abolitionists and of fighting for our rights our humanity. And then as we came closer and closer integrated into mainstream industry and society how we were kind of being more assimilated in and our voices were being muffled.”
Nicki Mayo wanted that tension soothed by having the power to be our own narrators.
“I want to be a juggernaut in the Black press because I like when we have control of our narrative. Whether it be in stories, film or the Arts or whatever,” she said.
“I just like it when our voice comes through our work telling our stories.”
Zuri Berry, who has known Mayo for five years, felt she had accomplished that goal.
“Nicki is a firebrand, principled,” Berry, senior managing editor at WAMU, Washington’s NPR station.
The two worked together at the Associated Press and various National Association of Black Journalists events. Mayo once served as the Region 1 Deputy Director.
“She does a good job of both being circumspect in the work that she does but also holding others accountable for their quality,” he said.
“I say that as you know through the prism of an NABJ sort of a colleague if you will, that she calls out news organizations that you know don’t do a good job of covering the Black community. And so that’s something that I think is admirable. A lot of people aren’t in a position to do and she does a good job of it.”
Mayo consumes, spits it out and even becomes a part of the narrative. The latter was on display when the social media influencer took exception to comments made by former WJZ anchorwoman Mary Bubala in May. Bubala implied on air that Black women in power led to corruption.
“We’ve had three female, African-American mayors in a row,” Bubala said. “Is this a signal that a different kind of leadership is needed to move Baltimore City forward?”
Soooooo this happened following the resignation of #Baltimore Mayor #CatherinePugh. URGH!🤦🏾♀️🤦🏾♂️🤷🏾♀️🤷🏾♂️ I'm not even sure I want to hear the excuse for this. I'm cringing and cursing🤬. (Reposting 📹video from @AndreShowell) pic.twitter.com/DPZfdnedFP
— Nicki Mayo (@nickimayonews) May 3, 2019
At first, Bubala and the station, where Mayo once worked as an associate producer, didn’t address the controversy. Mayo forced it into a national discussion as her tweet went viral. BABJ followed suit with a statement.
“Well again, Twitter, the evolution of something called Black Twitter, that has become one of the things that we can be very vocal about things that we’re not agreeing with,” Mayo said.
“And I did not agree with the comment that anchor at WJZ made, well former anchor at this point. In the same way that I would say I didn’t like the Game of Thrones and how it ended last night. Why not?”
Mayo felt Bubala, as a professional veteran, should’ve known better. She demanded accountability. At no point was it ever requested that Bubala be fired which occurred days after the comments. BABJ wanted to speak with WJZ and desired a formal on-air apology.
“They never contacted us. They never reached out. And you know, unfortunately, Nicki ended up taking the hit for that,” Wilson said.
“And it was it was a shame because you know there were a lot of people out there who are angry at Black people and they’ll find any reason to lash out.”
Berry appreciated how the situation was handled.
“I thought she did a good job of not sort of falling into this trap of the chapter president and chapter leadership if you will in calling for someone to be fired. She didn’t do that. And what she said what they should do better,” he said.
Mayo felt used as a scapegoat for Bubala’s dismissal. After 15 years at the network, she was a costly talent. Still, Mayo became the polarizing journalist in question in which her reputation was questioned.
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So far the hardest part of all of this WJZ-TV Mary Bubala fallout is seeing how polarizing this topic is and how even seasoned journalism professionals can't see/read the REAL issue and solution here. It’s 2019 and we can do better people. I’m saddened that at this point I’ve been having the SAME conversation with newsrooms asking for better diversity awareness, accountability and representation for 20 years now. That’s a long time “begging” your industry to see your humanity beyond marginalized trauma porn for ratings and circulation. #JournoLife
“Well, everyone has to deal with that kind of controversy and backlash when you know who you are and whose you are; when you stand for what is right. When you stand up for your principles. When you stand up to history and legacy and ancestry. And Nicki does,” Robinson said.
Robinson and Mayo’s friendship dates back to 20 years. Mayo was scouting schools for college and chose Syracuse where Robinson is a ’78 alum.
“The object of the game is even if you get the hits, you know you need to know how to heal from it. Get yourself up just like we’ve always heard. You get knocked down. A lot of you get dented and you get hit,” she said.
“But it doesn’t mean that the contents on the inside are; just because the outside of that can might be dented doesn’t mean the contents have necessarily changed. You’re still fortified. You take the hit. You do what you have to do. You stand by your principles and you keep moving forward.”
Doug Mitchell, Project Founder/Director of Next Generation Radio, echoed the sentiment. He’s known Mayo since her days in college. Mitchell recalled an incident regarding the school paper and a student protest. Mayo’s speak truth to power instincts were on display even then.
“Back in college, she was not afraid to point something out and do something about it. And not just complain because lots of people do about that but she takes action,” Mitchell said.
Mayo does not regret getting involved but took one for the culture. Her detractors sent her harassing messages in a coordinated effort through Facebook and Twitter. Some of them can be viewed below.
Mayo has had many taxing moments before this recent one. She caught another brunt of life last year while living in the city of Brotherly Love.
“Philadelphia broke me,” she candidly shared.
“Literally broke me. I had been through so many stresses in my life to the point where I was finally in a place where I was supposed to be cared for and loved and that entire experience, 360, broke me and it was to the point where I could no longer lead the BABJ.”
In Baltimore, she successfully rebuilt the BABJ. She returned from college in the 2000’s and found it abandoned, castaway despite having been one of the chapters that led to the formation of the NABJ in 1975. Mayo tapped into her network of friends and resources, created a website, LLC, became its president and spearheaded its revitalization.
“First and foremost, she didn’t have any fear. I didn’t get the impression that she didn’t think that she couldn’t do the job and that without question she was going to give 400 percent of herself to get the job done. And that’s half the battle,” Robinson said.
Her career continued rising to new apexes and she was sought for different appearances on an array of platforms. In an era where opinions are often measured by blue check marks and the cult of personality, her currency is held in the power of her work ethic.
Mayo left that stability and uprooted to Philadelphia, swayed by love and others who insisted she prioritized her career too much. Within months, she was alone in a city she hated and making less pay than she’d taken home in some time. $20,000 less than to be exact. In her late 30’s, she regressed to living like a college student barely getting by.
“People get played all the time but for me, I’ve done been that proverbial strong Black woman for so damn long,” Mayo said. “That is what finally broke me; allowing that much of my existence to be in someone else’s hand.”
Mayo described being displaced.
“I just could not do it anymore and I cracked. And I could not do this. And that’s why I’m a big advocate for, listen ladies and gentlemen too,— Therapy is your friend,” Mayo expressed.
“I didn’t have health care, so therapy was not even an option as I was going through that whole storm. I was hurt and I got tired of people hitting me up saying, ‘Stop acting like you’re hurt.’ I’m hurt.”
Mayo stepped down as BABJ president in 2018 in the middle of her term that was meant to last until 2020. She is now billed as immediate past president. Wilson succeeded her but felt the chapter was still in Mayo’s stewardship. Mayo was and still is vital to the organization.
“In name, I am the president,” Benet offered.
“But Nicki is the driving force behind everything. And if Nicki wasn’t there, our chapter would not. She is the heart of our chapter.”
Mayo now calls Bowie, MD home and thus far, it’s a much better fit. She is working as a government contractor and taking on clients who need help with their social media. She’s reset.
“I think I have [reset] and for what I was not able to 100 percent hard stop and hit the reset button, I’m still getting therapy and coaching for,” she said.
Mayo’s finances have rebounded. The windfall and savings will ensure that her future of being the head of a major company is another accomplishment where she answers to no one. The vicious turnover rate in newsrooms where everyone is disposable is a cycle she wants no part of.
“I’m trying to build that because if it’s mine, then I’m not expendable,” she affirmed.
To those that know Mayo, it’s only a matter of if and not when her dream is achieved. Mitchell may not always know what Mayo is doing but knows she is busy somewhere in the world.
“I’ve mentioned this to other people who feel like they don’t kind of know what to do. And I always tell them they should follow Nicki’s example,” Mitchell shared.
Robinson credited Mayo for always wanting to do more and not just for herself.
“She stays hungry to see what can we do next to move black journalists forward,” she said.
Robinson would continue to support Mayo in what she chose to do next.
“We all need each other, Black women, to make sure we all get to stand in our pumps. However, we need to do it.”
Mayo’s 40th birthday is in December. That age is weaponized against women. She’s no different, feeling the pressure of not having a husband and kids just yet as the milestone looms.
“Luckily for me, I don’t get too fixated on it, but I do get nervous about it,” she allowed.
The family unit will come once a ring is on her finger.
“I’ve been very aggressive in trying to make sure that you know if I’m going to have a kid with you, your last name needs to be mine too. Like I’m not playing around with it and that comes from my childhood,” she stressed.
Until then, Mayo didn’t feel embarrassed about her vulnerabilities. Personal and professional highs and lows were just a natural part of life. Being honest about either was not a stigma that needed to be worn as a badge.
Mayo has lost jobs and opportunities. She’s also been hurt physically, sexually and mentally. People can be seen in her.
“Don’t fall in love with the perfection that you only see. Social media especially presents only perfection. And when I was going through a lot of like the trials and ridiculousness with Philadelphia, I was getting it from the baby boomers all the time about putting it out there. ‘Don’t be telling people that you had a hard time,’” she remembered.
“Like why not because they’re coming at me as though I’m 100 percent healthy and telling people that I’m not healthy right now does not seem to be working. So, I’d rather be transparent so people will leave me the entire eff alone.”